Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has proposed a reform to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the oft-discussed law that gives tech companies a range of legal immunities not enjoyed by other types of companies.
In particular, Section 230 holds that interactive computer services (tech platforms fall into this category) won’t be held liable for removing material deemed to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
Another important part of the legislation holds that interactive computer services won’t be treated as the publishers of user content. That means that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other online platforms large and small can’t be be held liable for material posted by their users. In other words, if a Twitter user defames someone, Twitter isn’t liable. But if a New York Times writer defames someone, they are liable. This is the platform — publisher distinction.
Critics of the law on the left and right are at loggerheads. The left wants the protections of the law to be conditioned on tech companies removing so-called “disinformation” and “hate speech.” Critics on the right want it to be conditioned on tech companies giving users a platform for free expression and refraining from political bias.
Mark Zuckerberg, who will testify before Congress tomorrow, has a proposal for Section 230 reform focused on removing illegal content.
He once again expressed Facebook’s support for “updated internet regulation” and his own hope that Congress will enact “thoughtful reform of Section 230.” Zuckerberg noted that while the principles of the provision remain relevant, the internet has changed substantially in the last 25 years and suggested Section 230 “would benefit from thoughtful changes to make it work better for people.”
“We believe Congress should consider making platforms’ intermediary liability protection for certain types of unlawful content conditional on companies’ ability to meet best practices to combat the spread of this content,” Zuckerberg said. “Instead of being granted immunity, platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it. Platforms should not be held liable if a particular piece of content evades its detection — that would be impractical for platforms with billions of posts per day — but they should be required to have adequate systems in place to address unlawful content.”
Under Zuckerberg’s proposal, tech companies wishing to enjoy the protection of Section 230 would have to go a step further, proving that they have systems to identify unlawful content.
This is of course an easier task for Facebook, which has thousands of employees working on its algorithms, than it is for a smaller competitor.
Moreover, nowhere in Zuckerberg’s proposal is the issue of censorship of lawful content addressed.
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.